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I found him visible at ten o'clock in the morning. In more refined countries, if I had presumed to knock at a grandee's door at such an hour, I should have run some risk of being given in charge to the watchman. What was more astonishing, the princess, or “ my wife," as he called her, intruded upon the tête-à-tête immediately after. At ten o'clock in the morning ! how uncivilized! I found both the lady and gentleman well acquainted with the present state of England, and desperately afraid of the progress of popular reform, and its possible results with regard to Russia. I always eschew such subjects, however, when it is possible, and I changed the conversation as speedily as I could do so without rudeness.
The prince is the director of some of the principal charitable institutions of Moscow, and the information I either received from himself on the subject, or which he put me in the way of acquiring, was puzzling in the extreme. These institutions are not only admirable in themselves, but, generally speaking, among the best administered in Europe. How to reconcile this with the barbarism of the country is the question. When talking doubtfully of the moral effect of the Foundling Hospital, I could not but admire, on many occasions, the kindliness of heart, whatever I might think of the arguments, of my opponents. “ At any rate,” concluded they,“ we are willing to prevent one great crime, even at the hazard of inducing the commission of a hundred immoralities. We desire to do at least present good, trusting in the Almighty that he will not permit it to be followed by future evil.”
Charity, in this city, assumes every possible form. Count Sheremeetoff, for instance, bestows every year upon a certain number of spinsters a dowry of from a hundred to a thousand roubles, which they gain in the way of a lottery. The drawing presents a curious and interesting A friend of mine once congratulated a young girl upon
obtaining a small prize. “Tush !” said she, tossing her head, and half laughing,
what sort of husband can one expect for a hundred roubles ?
After dining with the prince above mentioned, and with many other Moscow nobles, I felt myself altogether confused and disappointed. The dinner, the wines, the language, the manners, all were Parisian. I regretted having come so far to see the barbarians of the north. Being on the spot, however, I noted a few things in which a slight difference was visible. In almost every house, par exemple, there was at least one elderly female, who appeared neither in dress nor manner to belong to the station of the entertainer, yet who sat in the drawingroom, and at table, with the rest of the company. These persons did not take part in the conversation. If more than one, they talked in a low voice together, when they were not altogether silent; and they always contrived to find their way to the dining-room without the assistance of the gentlemen.
General invitations to dinner are very common among the more wealthy families; but I could not bring myself, on more than two or three occasions, to avail myself of this species of hospitality. When I did go without a special summons, I found that, in general, the table was graced with “old familiar faces.” Each house has its own diners; and I was told that the non-appearance of any of these standard guests is looked upon with great suspicion. At one princely board, a gentle
man invariably made his appearance on the Sundays, who was only known as “ the man with the epaulettes.” He had received the first invitation a score of years before, and being of a very unobtrusive disposition, his name, in process of time, came to be forgotten, while his person was as well known as the marble columns of the hall. A Sunday at length came when something was found to be amiss at the table. The host and hostess fidgeted, the guests looked at one another, and held their spoons suspended over their soup. Everybody felt as if all was not right, but no one knew what was the matter; till at length the question broke suddenly from the noble entertainer, “Where is the man with the epaulettes ?”
The Man was not there. The old stagers in vain taxed their memory for some tradition which might throw a light upon his name. The servants were in vain interrogated as to the abiding place of this interesting personage. No one knew anything about him, and the meal passed on in doubts, fears, and conjectures of every possible hue. The worst of them, no doubt, were the truest; for the next Sunday—the nextthe next--all brought the accustomed meal, and the old familiar facesminus one. The man with the epaulettes was doubtless dead; but even this was only a hypothesis. Nothing is absolutely certain, but that he never was seen again.
“ Weeks followed weeks, moons rollid on moons away,
But Conrad comes not-came not since that day !” The servants in such families are, generally speaking, too numerous and ill-regulated to be of much use. When you enter a Russian nobleman's house, instead of a few brilliantly-dressed exquisites who wait upon you with a kind of devout attention, yet without the smallest hurry or confusion, you encounter a number of shabby dogs, whose motions and appearance persuade you for a moment that the house is on fire, and that a part of the street rabble has obtained admittance. These gentry either open upon you at once, not one of them having any precise department of his own, or, after gratifying their curiosity, they turn away, yawn, stretch themselves upon a bench, or enter into conversation with one another.
Hiring a servant is a mere lottery. The character of the man, it is true, is written upon his passport; but all these characters are alikeand all good. If the master has sufficient regard for his own honour to write the character which his servant deserves, a functionary of the police calls upon him, and represents that the fellow will never get another place. If the master is resolute, the servant, supposing him to have money or friends, brings an action against his “ tyrant," who is put to great trouble and expense in proving—if that be possible at all the truth of his allegations. Should the servant be prevented, however, either by poverty or fear of the result, from taking this step, he in most cases can command at least a five-rouble note, with which he bribes the police and obtains a new character.
Servants are sometimes--for there is no use in mincing the matterslaves; that is to say, they belong to their master unconnected with the land, and cannot be considered feudal tenants. The agricultural peasants may be transferred from one master to another, but they cannot be removed from the land, and therefore they can no more be said to be sold, than an English leaseholder, when the title-deeds of the property pass into new hands. Sometimes these tenants obtain permission to leave the estate, and become traffickers, servants, or anything else; but still they belong to this lord, as before, and must continue to pay him the obrok, or capitation tax. The difference between them and the former class is not a mere nominal one; for the one is, to all intents and purposes, a slave, who may be sold like an ox, while the other is a feudal tenant, who has either received leave of absence for a certain number of years, or who has been altogether manumitted, on condition of paying, as before, his obrok.
The number of slaves is comparatively very small. Sometimes, when well treated, they are faithful and attached, as was occasionally the case with negroes; but still in Russia, as everywhere else, slavery is a plaguespot upon the land, which, however we may flatter ourselves, can never be thoroughly eradicated, except with blood and burning. During my stay in Moscow, a gentleman flogged one of his slaves who acted as coachman, and sent him to his estate in the country. Here the man was flogged again, by an order which he carried himself, and then came back to town with two horses under his charge. On arriving, some further fault was found, and he was flogged for the third time, and commanded to betake himself again to the country, there to receive another flagellation. The man set out to obey, but he had hardly trudged half way, when he suddenly changed his intention. He returned to Moscow, walked straight to his master's room, and hewed him in pieces with his hatchet. He then called his brother-domestics around him, pointed to the mangled body, and telling them, in a few words, how and why the deed had been done, surrendered himself to justice.
I saw another assassin of the kind, when loaded with fetters, and about to commence his march for the mines of Siberia—the terrific substitute, in this country, for capital punishment. The motives in his case were not so clear; for the lady of the land, whom he had slain, was reported to be of a humane disposition, while the victim above mentioned was said to be a hard-hearted scoundrel, who well deserved his fate. A sullen obstinacy was the predominant character of the assassin's face. He felt no remorse, and exhibited no terror at the idea of a journey which would conduct him to a place, where three or four years, at most, of hopeless wretchedness, would terminate in a miserable death. He had entered his mistress's chamber, it seems, and smothered her with the bed-clothes. He confessed the fact, yet would not throw the least light upon his object, whether this was revenge or robbery; but the unhappy wretch was anxious to impress upon us all that two young women, his fellow-servants, who had been condemned as accomplices, were not only innocent of the crime, but had been altogether ignorant of his intentions.
I saw these women after their backs had been torn by the knout, and when they were just ready to begin their march to Siberia ; but I could not learn that the slightest evidence had been adduced against them, except the supposition that, as they were in the house at the time, they must have had a guilty knowledge of a deed which had taken more than an hour to perpetrate. The truth is, the system of slavery is so monstrous, that, unless protected in this way, by a crime of the kind involving the destruction even of the innocent, it could not continue to exist without giving rise to almost daily assassinations. The slaves, however, amount at present to considerably more than a million; and as each is worth as property, taking men and women together, at least a thousand roubles, the question of their emancipation must be one of much difficulty. Were civilized England the party concerned, the thing of course would be easy. We should have no long years of struggles--no purchased howlings against God and nature--not a single whisper of compensation to the slave-owner. We should say at once to the slave, * Be free !” and he would be free. But what can we expect from the Barbarians of the North ?
The case of the two women was closely inquired into when I was present, by Dr. Haas, a gentleman whose name it would be unpardonable to omit, since I have mentioned incidentally the charities of Moscow. Among the noblest of these charities, there is an institution sanctioned, if not established by government, which charges itself with the inspection of the gaols, and particularly of the depôt where the convicts assemble . to commence their pilgrimage to Siberia. Dr. Haas is the secretary of the institution, and he gives himself up, soul and body, to the duties of the office, with an enthusiasm of benevolence which has never been equalled since the days of Howard. Day and night he is at his post. In the middle of a meal, or in the middle of his sleep, he is at the command of the humblest or basest criminal who calls for his assistance. Some years ago he was engaged in a manufacturing speculation, which failed, and swept away the whole of his little fortune. Among the creditors, Mr. E-, a respectable English gentleman, thought himself peculiarly unfortunate, and solicited the insolvent to give him at least a small portion of the debt, since it was his all. “ That I cannot do,” replied the doctor,
“ for I have it not to give. You have indeed lost your all, and, for my part, I am glad of it. The circumstance is, no doubt, intended by Providence as a trial, and I am only too highly honoured in having been the instrument !"
The doctor once undertook a very long journey-a journey of eight or nine hundred miles, for the purpose of meeting his sister whom he had not seen for fifteen years, and who was on her way from Germany in order to pay him a visit. When he arrived at Narva, the place where he was to intercept her on her route, he found that the diligence did not arrive for some hours, and he walked up to the observatory to pass the time. There is here one of the finest telescopes I ever saw; and the doctor, who knows a little of astronomy, was so delighted with it, that the moon and stars appeared in the heavens, and then faded away before the beams of the next day's sun, ere he thought again of his sister ! The lady in the meantime arrived at Narva, and passed on, unconscious of his having left Moscow.
Under the inspection of this old man, the prisoners of the Barbarians of the North are as well attended tomand, in some respects, more comfortably situated-than those of the most civilized nations in Europe. The benevolent feelings, however, which are the basis of this system owe their origin to the present century.
“ Little provision,” says a traveller'in 1784, “is made in this country for prisoners; and a poor wretch, without friends or money, confined in a Russian gaol, runs some hazard of starving. I have sometimes visited those mansions of misery; and if famine, chains, nakedness, and filth are shocking, the scenes I beheld were shocking." At the present day the prisoners, who have plenty to eat, and who are sometimes supplied even with delicacies by private charity, complain occasionally of the quality of their bread, but of nothing else. In the case of the only complaint of this kind which came under my personal observation, I know they were wrong; for my opinion of the bread was taken by Dr. Haas, and I found it to be quite as good as that eaten by the peasantry out of doors.
This kind of bread is black and sour, but extremely nutritive. A peasant, indeed, although he relishes white bread as a child does cake, would be apprehensive of starving if confined to it as his ordinary diet. I have seen persons even of the highest rank eat black bread at dinner by preference; and often, in a pedestrian excursion, I have myself regaled upon it with much gusto, when accompanied by the rich thick milk with which the wanderer may be supplied at almost every peasant's hut. Unfortunately, however, the preparation of this essential article does not always receive equal care. It is frequently so full of sand, that it must infallibly affect the health of the consumer; and I have no doubt that the frequency of an agonizing complaint is chiefly owing to this cause. In a statistical table which happens to be before me, I find that in the year 1822 sixty-two operations for the stone were performed in one general hospital in Moscow, and thirty-four in another.
Dr. Haas's customers of course consist not only of peasants, but occasionally of persons of every other class. They in fact form an epitome of Russian society; and I now propose showing, in a few words, in what manner that society is constituted, beginning at the lowest moral link in the social chain, but without including the military, the clergy, and the nobles.
First, then, we have the slaves--men who have neither souls nor bodies of their own—who are sometimes attached friends, and sometimes assassins, just as they are treated, but whose reasoning faculties are in general employed in the exercise of that ingenuity by which a man seeks to perform, at the least possible cost of labour, a task for which he is not paid, and in which he can have no possible interest. The number of this class, as compared to that of the great body of the PEOPLE, is small, hardly exceeding that of the nobles! I was told by one of the high officers of government, who I trust will have an opportunity of seeing this page, that men and women ceased to be sold like cattle in Russia fifteen years ago. He perhaps intended to say that such sale was at that period forbidden by law; but unfortunately, owing to the defective state of the executive department, many of the best laws are a dead letter. To the present Emperor, who possesses a vigour of determination almost equal to that of his great predecessor Peter, and who is besides beloved even to idolatry by a mighty majority of his people, Europe looks, not for a superficial, but a radical reform of this monstrous abuse. Let his Majesty remember that Russia is a new country, whose headlong pace has never yet been measured, either in power or civilization, by that of the old kingdoms of Europe; let him forget the late tardiness of England in a similar question; and above all things, let him look down with imperial disdain upon the existing example of the soidisant republicans of America.
The second class consists of those peasants of the nobles who are not slaves, but serfs of the glebe. This is by far the most numerous body